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Fingerboard Fact Finding Vol. 1

As I am currently busy with my Master Thesis, I am doing a lot of reading about fingerboard training. I often get asked: What protocol should I follow? Luckily we are seeing more and more research on this topic. This is one of my favourite papers looking at fingerboard training gains. It is quite a small paper with only 14 participants, but good methodology still gives us some interesting insights.


Source:

Levernier, G., & Laffaye, G. (2019). Four Weeks of Finger Grip Training Increases the Rate of Force Development and the Maximal Force in Elite and Top World-Ranking Climbers. In Journal of strength and conditioning research (Vol. 33). https://doi.org/10.1519/JSC.0000000000002230


Background:

We know that finger strength is very important for bouldering performance and our flexor tendons play a major role. During bouldering we need the grip of a hold to be as strong and as fast as possible. This refers to the rate of force development. Research has shown that this is more important in bouldering than it is in lead climbing. Boulderers are able to develop high levels of force in a smaller amount of time, which helps them stabilise their body; it also helps with efficiency.


Interesting side note:

We can muster the same amount of force in an openhand position as we can in a half-crimp. But the full-crimp position is still the strongest grip (unfortunately it is also most prone to injure pulley ligaments).

This study:

Levernier and Laffaye (2019) recruited 14 elite and world top ranking climbers (8B FB as a minimum send grade) and divided them into two groups. The groups were comparable in terms of height, ape-index, weight etc., but unfortunately the authors don't give us specifics about their individual skill levels or rankings. All of them trained six times a week, although the intervention group included a specific hangboard intervention three times a week for four weeks:


Levernier and Laffaye (2019) pg. 3

Levernier and Laffaye (2019) pg. 3


Their Results:

Including the fingerboard training protocol increased the rate of force development in the first 200ms by: 32% for the openhand grip, 27.5% for the half-crimp and 28% for the full crimp grip. The control group did not have these gains. So what changed? The total rate of force development didn't. Which makes sense, since a structural change in the muscles takes a minimum of six weeks of training. But the neural response can change quicker, so a neural impulse can activate more muscles fibres with a stronger reaction.


It is also nice to know, that they did not use the full crimp when fingerboard training. But the gains translated to the full-crimp position anyway.


That means that elite boulders can improve their contact strength in just 4 weeks and they can do so without adding more stress to their pulley ligaments because they don't have to use the full-crimp. Pretty impressive.


Now, because this is research and science and because this is a small sample size, we can't say that these results translate to all boulderers of all abilities. But it's worth a try. As long as you are safe while training, always warm up and never ever ever train into pain.



P.S. These elite climbers had an average of 1cm Ape-Index, which really isn't a lot at all. Check out the Ape-Index board at Bloc 11 and you'll see the Ape-Index of some of our local legends (and some internationals too).


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©2019 by J Smigelskis Physiotherapy.